Apart from hybrid vehicles, which have been in the South African market for years, car manufacturers are also assisting the research and development of biofuels for car engines.
Biofuels, according to researchers at the University of Stellenbosch, are derived from biomass and are cleaner and more sustainable than conventional crude oil.
Biofuels are gaining public and scientific attention, driven by oil price spikes, the need for increased energy security and concern over greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels.
Hybrid vehicles – introduced by Honda and Toyota – run on both battery and fuel. Toyota’s hybrid, the Prius, arrived in SA in 2005, and sells about 25 units each month.
These vehicles are for the environmentally conscious, emitting significantly less carbon dioxide owing to their ability to run on battery power. Honda’s CRZ was introduced last month, with three more hybrids to be introduced before 2012.
Car makers have to contend with conventional fuel and pay the carbon tax on vehicles.
Thus, Ford SA has donated car engines to Stellenbosch University to boost research on biofuels and sustainable energy.
The company says the search for cleaner and sustainable fuel in vehicles is a pressing concern for all car makers.
“The donation of 1,6-litre engines, along with three cylinder head assemblies … will assist the university in establishing an infrastructure where students can learn more about the mechanics, metallurgy and thermodynamics of engines, as well as the combustion of biofuels,” the company says.
Wallace Yearwood, Ford engine plant manager, says there should be a stringent search for “new-generation” fuels that are renewable, sustainable and more environmentally friendly.
Mr Yearwood says the company is working towards a partnership with the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University for broader research and the development of new technology.
Richard Haines, Stellenbosch University lecturer in mechanical and mechatronic engineering, says the production of biofuels for car engines is still in its early stages, but is an “exciting” development. Mr Haines says scientists are looking at ways to develop fuels that are not corrosive to engines and made from a variety of elements, such as hydrocarbons and food oils.
At the moment, the researchers are running biofuels through single-cylinder engines and will later run them on bigger engines. Industry players have repeatedly suggested that the carbon tax be imposed only when cleaner fuels are available.
Responding to the carbon tax, the National Automobile Association of SA (Naamsa) has said its most “glaring” shortcoming is that fuels meeting European Union “Euro 4 and Euro 5 enabling” clean fuel standards are not available in SA. This lack, it says, constrains car companies from offering highly fuel efficient vehicles to the domestic market. The introduction of the tax raised the ire of local manufacturers who say no country has introduced the carbon tax without enabling fuel being available. Naamsa advocates that the government should legislate to encourage the introduction of “green fuel” in SA.
The government is developing an oil refinery that will produce quality petrol and diesel designed to meet proposed clean fuel legislation.
Project Mthombo – the R11bn crude oil refinery to be situated in the Coega Industrial Development Zone – will be completed by 2015.
While biofuels are being developed and the oil refinery is being constructed, the government still believes that measures, such as the imposition of the carbon tax need to be taken to ensure a degree of environmental stewardship.
BUSINESSDAY at allAfrica.com